Larger crane expected in February to lift sunken barge in Port McNeill

Watch The Alaska Plaza sank in the Port McNeill harbour during a storm Christmas Eve causing concerns about leaking diesel fuel. It sank again during a salvage attempt last week.

An 80-foot barge remains at the bottom of the Port McNeill harbour after sinking twice since Christmas Eve.

Tom Butcher, who lives on his boat near the federal dock where the Alaska Plaza went down, says he remembers the raging wind storm Christmas Eve that sent it down to the bottom.

“It was really bouncing around out there pretty wildly and the next morning I looked out the window and you couldn’t see the cabin anymore. It was gone,” recalled Butcher.

The Alaska Plaza is a two-story steel accommodation barge owned by Oregon-based Croman Corporation. It was being towed through the area when it was tied up at the dock for a holiday break for the crew.

It took until last week for a crane to come in to lift the barge on Friday, but again bad weather and other factors foiled the salvage effort.

“On the Saturday morning, we got notified as the unified command that it had capsized again and sunk again,” said Alan Stebbing, provincial incident commander with the environmental emergencies program.

“They were in the process of dewatering it, trying to get as much weight out of it as they could as it was close to the capacity of the crane so that they could actually lift it and put it on a recovery barge and they were not able to complete this before weather and darkness ended up turning on them,” said Port McNeill’s harbour manager, Rebekah Adams.

There were between 3,500 and 5,600 litres of diesel fuel onboard and an unknown amount spilled when it was raised. Containment booms were working until they were dragged down when the barge went down the second time.

“We were still only seeing about 10 per cent of the oil hit the shore so if we’re talking about 4,000 litres escape which I think is well on the high side we are only talking about 400 litres hitting the shore and almost 50 per cent evaporates,” said Stebbing.

Crews still need to determine how much fuel was absorbed by the containment booms to help calculate how much diesel fuel might have escaped.

“We have to balance how much cleaning we do because there’s damage to the environment in that with how much we can actually leave and let nature take its course and let natural attenuation happen,” said Stebbing.

A spokesperson with The Canadian Coast Guard said “A National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP) overflight on January 9th reported 0.6L of observable diesel fuel on the water. It is expected that more fuel escaped, however response efforts combined with wind and wave action all contributed to the dispersion of this remaining fuel.”

The spill continues to be monitored and it won’t be until February before a larger crane comes in to try the salvage again.

Croman Corp. is said to be cooperating and will pay the cost of the salvage and clean up.

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Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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